Tuesday, 18 September 2012

New term, new post!

Hi there, everyone.  Sorry for the summer break - I was in Thailand for a few weeks, then running a very intense Summer Programme (see pictures of our children making a Narnia film here!), and then getting ready for the new year, which hasn't left much time for blogging.

But I'm back and ready to share this coming year with you.  Lots of things are happening - since it's the inter-regnum, I'm now doing assemblies at Hawkesdown House School every week, instead of every other week, so I'll have some assembly ideas for you all.  We've also started our Youth Group, with a group of seven 11-to-13-year-olds, who are all wonderful and amazing in their own ways.  We're doing the New Testament in our older group and the Old Testament in our younger group, so we'll have some lesson plans and craft ideas, as well as reports on "stuff kids say in Sunday School."  And finally, as the publication date of my book, There is a Season: celebrating the church year with children comes closer, we'll have promotions and contests and proposed cover images for you all to comment on.

But to start with, I wanted to reflect on the two and a half years I've already spent here, and the changes that have happened in that time.  This job revolves around ritual and the building of communal tradition.  Looking over old photos, I began to realise how many new traditions have already become a part of our work and worship with children at St. George's.  Some of these were my own idea, some came from Father Michael or Father Robert, some were compromises worked out over several staff meetings, and some are transplanted traditions from my own childhood, which I am now passing on to the children at St. George's.

But here they are:

1. Blessing "Bread for the Journey," which has been made by children at our Family Days or in Sunday School, at the end of our All-Age Eucharists.

Our congregation is very attached to the use of wafers, rather than real bread, as communion bread.  However, the children bake bread as a part of many of their celebrations together, and I wanted it to be used in our worship together - bread is a symbol of community and the Body of Christ, and so having the children's bread be used in a liturgical setting was important for reinforcing this.  I didn't want "their" bread to just be sent home with them - I wanted it to be part of our life together and a sign of God's presence among us.

So Father Robert suggested that on these occasions we adopt the Orthodox tradition of blessing bread "for the journey," which is handed to the congregation at the end of the service.  This way, the children themselves can take charge of the distribution, and, more importantly, partake of the bread, even if they don't yet receive communion.

2. Holy Week and Easter (3 traditions).  Many of our children are away over the Easter holidays and don't celebrate Easter itself with us.  So on the first Sunday back, after the holidays, we celebrate Easter together by acting out the stories of the Great Vigil of Easter, reading out the sermon of St. John Chrysostom, and, shouting "CHRIST IS RISEN!!" going into the Sunday School room, Hallelujah chorus blasting from the CD player, and eating cake together.  (This liturgy is included in the book, by the way.)

But even before that, we have two traditions during Holy Week itself - on Palm Sunday, the children carry a banner and lead the procession into the church, then go upstairs and, while the adults read the passion, we act it out.

And on Good Friday, we have our children's stations of the cross, which is, for me, one of the most profound spiritual experiences of the year.  I look forward to it not only for what it does for the children, who always amaze me with their insights and their willingness to engage with the story, but for me.

3. Ascension Day Balloon Release.  Okay, this can't be called a tradition yet because we've only done it once, but it was so fabulous we're definitely doing it again.  Before the blessing and dismissal, we sang a hymn and processed out of the church - the sidesmen (who were both women) were waiting by the door with bunches of helium balloons (biodegradeable balloons on biodegradeable ribbons) and handed one to each of us.  We gathered outside, read a prayer, and then, as the priest said, "God has gone up with a shout!" we released our balloons!  I'm thinking that next year we might attach cards with the church's name and address to the ribbon, so people who find the balloons will know where they came from.

4. "People, Look East" Christmas pageant. This is a Nativity play we do as the main service on the third Sunday of Advent.  This will be our third year.  It's a dramatised service of Lessons and Carols, and it IS the main Sunday service, not just a part of it or a separate event.  The children have become familiar with the lessons, helping them to put the birth of Jesus in its theological context.  Doing the same play year after year is a liturgical experience - you hear the first line and think "oh yes, this is like Christmas last year - and the year before that."  The play, and its religious content, becomes as familiar to you as the secular traditions that are repeated year after year, and as you grow in understanding, you see more and more depth to the play.

Traditions are important.  They help us mark the year, providing a shortcut, through the use of sense and memory, for our brain to realise, "oh yeah, it's THAT time!"  They also get easier and easier to do, as the congregation becomes used to how they work.  The first balloon release is nervewracking - you wonder if you have enough, if everyone can hear the prayers, if the hymn is long enough to get everyone out, if people will know when to release the balloons, etc. etc.  The second is easier, as people remember how to do it.  The third is a doddle.  It's important not to forget to try new things, but think carefully about what you might already be doing that could become a beloved tradition.  What are the really important times of the year?  How could you mark them with traditions?

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